Holy Spirit

ACTA COMMENTARY

THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

 

TWENTY-FIFTH  SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK

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READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Wisdom                                 2:12. 17-20                                      

Responsorial Psalm                                    Psalm 53:3-6. 87-10.  R/. v.6  

A reading from the letter of St James                                  3:16 -4:3 

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       9:30-37 

     

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Not again!

Another big chunk of Mark’s story is left out of our Sunday Lectionary.  The coherence of Mark’s story becomes incomprehensive and his teaching (“the gospel of Jesus Messiah, Son of God”, as stated in his opening line) is undermined.  The Gospels are carefully edited pieces of writing and omitting large sections diminishes our capacity to grasp what the inspired word of God is saying to us.

   Two major incidents that are omitted as we go from Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection to his second prediction in today’s Gospel reading:

  1. The Transfiguration Story, plumb in the centre                     of Mark’s story and strategically placed so that                              Mark’s hearers/readers can meditate and pray                         the predictions of suffering and death in the light            of God’s second declaration that Jesus is the                        Beloved Son and the one we must listen to. 

              Mark 9:1-13.

  1. The Healing of a young boy possessed of a                        demon.  The account of this incident contains a                               vital discussion on faith with the boy’s father                               giving us a way to live our faith in these dark                         days:

                                         I believe; help my unbelief!

                     To which Jesus adds for our benefit that evil can                be driven out only if we are on our knees.

Mark 9:14-29

Read and pray these stories before you come to listen to the words of Jesus as again he teaches his apprentices what lies ahead.   The second revelation of what lies ahead ends with these depressing words,

                               But they (his disciples) did not understand                             the saying, and were afraid to ask.  

Mark 9:32  

Listening to today’s Gospel, as we shall see, will break your heart, especially when we begin to learn how the disciples react to the three disclosures of what is to happen in Jerusalem and we know that all these, as St Paul names them “so-called pillars” (Galatians 2:9) could do when the clouds gathered was run away.

A reading from the book of Wisdom                                 2:12. 17-20                                      

Godless people oppress the righteous poor;

they do not spare the widow

or regard the grey hairs of the old,

but conspire against the weak.

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man

because he is inconvenient to us

and opposes our designs;

he reproaches us for our sins against the Law,

and accuses us of sins against our upbringing.

He professes to have knowledge of God

and calls himself a servant of the LORD.

Let us see if his words are true,

And let us see what will happen him at the end of his days.

If the virtuous man is God’s servant,

God will help him,

and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies.

Let us test him with cruelty and torture,

so that we may find out how gentle he really is

and put his endurance to the test.

Let us condemn him to a shameful death,

for, according to what he says,

he will be protected.

The word of the LORD.


These words are, it seems to me, as they are read to us at the breaking of the bread, addressed to three audiences.

   First, in the poetry of the Book of Wisdom, they are an ironic dismissal of the wretched rich and powerful that have no regard for God’s Law, no regard for the religious teaching they received at their parents’ knees.  Their arrogance is revealed in an imaginary conversation as they plot to destroy holy people who trust in God and live accordingly.  Unfortunately our reading does not bring the plotting of evil people to its conclusion.  Wickedness blinds evil people,

..for they do not know

the secret purposes of God,

nor hope for the reward of holiness,

nor realise the prize awaiting godly people;

for God created us for incorruption,

and made us in the image of his own nature.

But through  the devil’s envy

death entered this world

and those who belong to his company

experience it.                                                Book of Wisdom 2:21-24

   The second level of today’s reading is directed at the fate of Jesus.  The original author will not have had Jesus in mind.  But we can see how fitting his words are as we consider the suffering and death Jesus endures before he was exalted to the safe home of his Father.  The three passion predictions in Mark’s Gospel force us to sit upon the ground at the foot of the cross and realise how evil triumphs everywhere under the sun, even in our Church, and it sometimes seems that our prayers that God take away the sins of the world are falling on deaf ears.

   But, as these words of wisdom are also addressed to us, we must keep faith and know that all will be well, all manner of thing will be well.  God’s  mill may grind slowly but grind it does and the wheat is sifted, and humanity will, in God’s good time, come to see that love is the only thing that lasts forever.

Responsorial Psalm                                    Psalm 53:3-6. 87-10.  R/. v.6  

R/.    The LORD upholds my life

O God, save me by your Name,

and vindicate me by your might.

O God, hear my prayer;

                    give ear to the words of my mouth.     R/.

For strangers have risen against me,

ruthless men seek my life;

                    they have no regard for God.                 R/.

Behold, God is my helper;

the LORD  is the upholder of my life.

I will offer a sacrifice to you with willing heart

and praise your Name,

O LORD, 

                                 for it is good.                            R/.

Many psalms have an inscription, sometimes naming the tune to which the psalm should be sung, or revealing the name of its author, or that it was a favourite of the Temple choir.  This psalm is highly unusual in that it tells us that it was composed as a prayer of David when he was being pursued by King Saul and his life was in danger.  The biblical reading which inspired this psalm is this:

          David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.

   Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart's desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king's hand.” And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul

 First Samuel 23:15-24

   The psalm opens with an appeal for deliverance “by your Name”.   The great Temple in Jerusalem was not primarily a house of prayer.  It was God’s house, the place where God dwelt on earth, where lived the Presence which would be with us in Jesus, the Presence, too, in our tabernacle.  The phrase most often used in the Bible to express God’s Presence was that His Name dwelt among his people in his house, the Temple.  In need or danger, the thing to do was to “call upon the Name of the LORD” (see 1 Kings 8:16 ff. for the building of the Temple as a dwelling place for the Name of the LORD).

   So David is praying that God be present to him and envelop him with his protective Presence).  This is surely a psalm for our times.  We need to be wrapped in God’s Presence in a world unmindful of God.

   When we bless ourselves, In the Name of the Father, and the Name of the Son, and the Name of the Holy Spirit, we are calling on the Name, on the Presence of God, to be with us in what we do, in what we say, in what we are.  What I learned growing into prayer is that blessing is always an invocation, a call the God’s Presence to come to our aid and make haste to help us:

I bless myself when a hearse goes by, praying that the Presence may be with the dead.

I bless myself when an ambulance careers past, praying that the Presence may be there with the sick, the injured, whatever.

I bless myself when a fire engine screams past, praying  that the Presence may be there so that no one is consumed in the flames.

I bless myself when a mother-to-be gets on the bus, praying that the Presence may be with mother and child, and a guardian over a safe delivery.

                               … and so on through life’s fitful fever.

The Presence we experience and meet at Mass is not given us to conceal.  It is given us that we may speak a blessing in our world. 

A reading from the letter of St James                                  3:16 - 4:3 

 

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

   

   What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire what you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

The word of the LORD.

The practical living of the life of Jesus, the life we are called to live, is the central concern of James, the brother of the Lord.  For five Sundays we listen to his forceful attack on our complacency.  The force of his words is somewhat concealed in English translations in their praiseworthy effort to make sense.  But James is blunt.  He speaks in staccato fashion, thus,


For,

where jealousy, there ambition, and there every disorder

But,

wisdom from above is first pure,

peace-loving,

gentle,

reasonable

merciful

impartial,

sincere.

Like a hail of bullets, he shoots at us, giving great force to his words.  How can we be so stupid to live in the narrowness of jealousy, in scatter-brained ambition, when a dollop of God’s wisdom pours into our hearts a single-minded (pure) peaceable, gentle, rational, merciful, impartial and sincere life-style?  A veritable harvest of goodness is ours for the asking.  Remember those who make peace live in peace, he tells us, - if our world did but listen.  Or, to put James in modern dress, guns don’t make you safe; they just make you poor.

    He goes on to list.

fights,

desiring the unattainable,

coveting what you can’t get

quarrelling,

looking for the moon

(or as he puts it, asking for what you can’t have and don’t need).

James believes in calling a spade a spade, and not an agricultural implement.  Painful practical truths about Christian living shine through his every word.  You can tell he was “the brother of the Lord”, and certainly not a slow-learner.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       9:30-37 

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

   And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.

The gospel of the LORD.

The Lectionary doesn’t help us here but Jesus has come down from the mountain of the Transfiguration and leads his apprentices through Galilee toward Capernaum.  It was on the way from Transfiguration that Jesus again attempts to tell what will happen.  Again we are told that Jesus did not want outsiders to know what  he was privately teaching his disciples, now for the second time, concerning his destiny.  The detail is sharper, more brutal than that given to his intimate circle in 8:31-32.   Notice the stark reality of his words:

                               The Son of Man is going to be handed over                                 into the hands of men,

                               and they will kill him.

                               And when he is killed,

                               after three days he will rise.

The plain speaking is to no avail:  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask.

 

Notice carefully what happens next.  They arrive in Capernaum and enter the house (thought to be a base camp for Jesus) and Jesus asks a devastating question:



On the way, what was it you were discussing?[1]

A loaded question for he well knew.  While Jesus was teaching them about the fate that awaited him at the hands of men, they were arguing among themselves which one of them was the greatest.

    When Jesus first revealed to the Twelve, his most intimate disciples, what lay ahead In Jerusalem, Peter, the Rock, rebuked Jesus as if he were possessed by a demon for suggesting God’s Messiah would meet such a fate at the hands of the chief priests and elders.  Jesus calls him Satan.

   Now, a second time, Jesus tries to open their minds to the realities that lay ahead.  And what were they doing?

    Jesus sits down in the traditional pose of a teacher.  He gathers the Twelve around him, his most intimate apprentices.  And he spells it out for them.  If anyone among you wants to be first, then he must be the servant of all.[2]     Then Jesus reached out for a little child running around the house, put the child in front of these sickeningly ambitious men and points out a lesson that has yet to be learned, to be understood, and to be done:

                               Whoever receives one such child

                                in my name,

                                receives me,

                               and whoever receives me,

                               receives not me

                               but him who sent me.

Today, as we hear these words of our Lord Jesus, we do not need a sermon.  We need to weep - and to pray.

Joseph O’Hanlon


 

 

 

[1]  Don’t forget what “the way” means in the earliest Christian vocabulary.  Mark will have been well aware that the phrase would have a depth for meaning for his readers/hearers.

[2]  The word used for servant here is “deacon”.

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